Psalm 89

June 11, 2021

1 I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.

2 For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: thy faithfulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens.

3 I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant,

4 Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah.

5 And the heavens shall praise thy wonders, O LORD: thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints.

6 For who in the heaven can be compared unto the LORD? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the LORD?

7 God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.

8 O LORD God of hosts, who is a strong LORD like unto thee? or to thy faithfulness round about thee?

9 Thou rulest the raging of the sea: when the waves thereof arise, thou stillest them.

10 Thou hast broken Rahab in pieces, as one that is slain; thou hast scattered thine enemies with thy strong arm.

11 The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine: as for the world and the fulness thereof, thou hast founded them.

12 The north and the south thou hast created them: Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy name.

13 Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand.

14 Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face.

15 Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of thy countenance.

16 In thy name shall they rejoice all the day: and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.

17 For thou art the glory of their strength: and in thy favour our horn shall be exalted.

18 For the LORD is our defence; and the Holy One of Israel is our king.

19 Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one, and saidst, I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people.

20 I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him:

21 With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm also shall strengthen him.

22 The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him.

23 And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him.

24 But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted.

25 I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers.

26 He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

27 Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.

28 My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him.

29 His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven.

30 If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments;

31 If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments;

32 Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes.

33 Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.

34 My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.

35 Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David.

36 His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me.

37 It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven. Selah.

38 But thou hast cast off and abhorred, thou hast been wroth with thine anointed.

39 Thou hast made void the covenant of thy servant: thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground.

40 Thou hast broken down all his hedges; thou hast brought his strong holds to ruin.

41 All that pass by the way spoil him: he is a reproach to his neighbours.

42 Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries; thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice.

43 Thou hast also turned the edge of his sword, and hast not made him to stand in the battle.

44 Thou hast made his glory to cease, and cast his throne down to the ground.

45 The days of his youth hast thou shortened: thou hast covered him with shame. Selah.

46 How long, LORD? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? shall thy wrath burn like fire?

47 Remember how short my time is: wherefore hast thou made all men in vain?

48 What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah.

49 Lord, where are thy former lovingkindnesses, which thou swarest unto David in thy truth?

50 Remember, Lord, the reproach of thy servants; how I do bear in my bosom the reproach of all the mighty people;

51 Wherewith thine enemies have reproached, O LORD; wherewith they have reproached the footsteps of thine anointed.

52 Blessed be the LORD for evermore. Amen, and Amen.

The Point:

Despite His unfaithful people, God will hold true to His covenant made with David from generation to generation.

How do we feel in the recitation of this psalm?

As this psalm progresses, we experience two sentiments simultaneously. There is a bitter disappointment with the present condition of the people of God and a hopeful confidence in God’s covenant promises. Verses 37 and 38 mark a terrible transition between what we know is true by the revealed promises of God and what our eyes witness in the present reality. The psalm represents a crisis of faith, but in the last verse we confirm our faith in God one last time. We derive much security and comfort from reminders of God’s faithfulness to His covenant, but, as our eyes shift to the deteriorating condition of God’s people, our hearts grow cold with discouragement. We long for the glory days of old, wondering if God will ever revisit His people again with His covenant mercies as He did in times past.

What does this psalm teach us?

Verses 1–4. This introduction sets the theme of the psalm. Ethan the Ezrahite testifies to a steadfast faith in the covenant-keeping God despite the increasing apostasy of His people. Ethan is certain that God will continue the project that He initiated during the days of Abraham and David. God will have a people, establish His King, and build His Kingdom that will never pass away. We cannot overlook the rock-solid commitment that God has made to His project—this merciful covenant. It will never be revoked. The biblical word “covenant” holds very intense connotations. When God established that covenant with Abraham, He passed between the bloody forms of dead animals cut in half. A covenant is a promise or a deal that cannot be broken. When a faithful husband promises to be true to his wife “till death do us part,” he cannot even think of breaking that covenant. The covenants God makes are even more binding. Marriages may dissolve; the records of marriages may burn up when city halls burn down. But the covenant God made with David is established in the heavens where no records will ever burn. It is established forever.

The central matter of this covenant is the eternal reign of David’s line. Whereas earthly kingdoms will pass from family to family, such as the English throne passing from the Plantegenet family to the Tudors and then to the Stuarts, this is not so with the kingdom of God. This throne remains in one family—the line of David. There are still some who do not realize this rule of David over the whole world. “If David is dead and gone, who is this King of Israel?” they ask. The Apostles made it clear that Jesus Christ Himself is the fulfillment of this prophecy, and His kingdom remains to this day. It subsumes all of life for both those who will recognize His kingship and those who refuse to recognize it. God has placed His Son on the throne, “far above all principality, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:20–21). From this passage we can see that Jesus Christ is Head and King over more than the church. He is Head over all things—with a special interest in the provision and vitality of His church.

Verses 5–18. Faith in this covenant requires faith in the One Who makes the covenant, so the following verses describe our faithful God. This covenant is not made with some weak, vacillating god who cannot or will not keep his word. In these verses, our God is portrayed as a mighty man in battle, more fearsome than the greatest warriors in all of the annals of history. It doesn’t mean all that much when some weak king shows a little mercy to his subjects. But when the most powerful Ruler of the Universe chooses to make covenant with His people to protect and defend them, it is a most fearsome, majestic, and noteworthy matter indeed! This God has absolute control over the motions of the stars and the raging of the high seas that toss aircraft carriers about like toothpicks. He took Egypt, the world’s greatest empire, and snapped it in two like a twig. His is no arbitrary standard of justice. He is the source of justice and maintains the standard without compromise. While He will not bend His standard of justice, He finds a way to show great mercy in judgment.

The psalmist then describes the blessed state of those who have heard Yahweh’s name and walk in His favor. What a blessing it is to be in relationship with such a One who reigns over all yet is merciful to those who come to Him in humility! His people glory in His strength. At various times in history, it was a privilege to be a citizen of a country like Rome or America, especially when those nations were in the zenith of their power. It is far more of a blessing to be identified with the God Who created heaven and earth and rules by His absolute, sovereign power through His Son Jesus Christ. He exalts the horn of those He favors, which means that He gives them the upper hand in the conflict.

Verses 19–37. This third set of verses now expands more on the covenant that God makes with His people Israel, more specifically with David. Speaking in the first person directly to David, the Lord lays out His purposes for this kingdom. He promises to strengthen David for the task. But, somewhere between verses 22 and 29, the focus shifts from David to His greater Son. For Christ would come through the line of David, and He would one day ascend to the throne. As part of the covenant, God promises to beat down David’s enemies and weaken those who hate him. He guarantees that David’s Son will excel in authority over all of the kings and rulers of the earth. God’s merciful favor will attend Christ and His Church, while the enemies of Christ the King run for cover. There are only two or three references in the Old Testament to the Fatherhood of God, and verse 26 is one of them. Of course, the New Testament is filled with these references, especially as Jesus Christ appeals to His Father throughout the Gospels—a clear fulfillment of the prophecy contained in Psalm 89:26: “Thou art my Father, my God, and the Rock of my Salvation.” This is interesting because we do not find that Abraham referred to God as “Father.” But now we enjoy this privilege because we are in Christ, Who is the beneficiary of an eternal, intimate connection with the Father.

Several times throughout this psalm, the psalmist certifies the absolute certainty of this covenant. As sure as men have counted on the sun to rise by day and the moon to light the night, this covenant will remain. God has sworn to this covenant, and He cannot lie.

Verses 30–37 provide a precursor to what comes in the last, saddening verses in the psalm. God includes this important caveat so as to address the possible scenario in which David’s progeny rebels against the covenant. This scenario was not just likely to happen—it was certain to happen. So what happens when David’s descendants rebel against Yahweh (Rehoboam, Jehoram, Manasseh or anybody else)? Speaking in this case about the corporate body of the people of God, the Lord promises chastisement for them as a father would chastise a son should he rebel. Yet through it all He promises that He will stay true to the original covenant. This project will never fizzle out. There may be a period of time now and then where God’s people will pass through dark and persistent rebellion. Yet He will never completely remove His favor from them.

Verses 38–52. As it turns out, the reference to the possibility of rebellion was not a far-fetched proviso in the covenant. For now the psalm makes the terrible transition back to the present reality. The Ezrahite must have written the psalm sometime during the period of spiritual decline in Israel, possibly even during the exile in Babylon. The relationship was broken. God had cast off His people because they were abhorrent to Him. 

In 2007 a young man from a devout Christian home in Colorado cursed his parents in a public forum, rebelled against them in the most radical sense, and murdered four people in Christian ministries before he was killed by a security guard. Obviously, such wicked behavior brought great shame upon this boy’s parents and family members. It made him odious and abhorrent to those who were closest to him. Imagine how his parents must have felt about this foul behavior. This is something like what has happened to the nation of Israel, God’s rebellious son. The relationship has unraveled. The covenant is in tatters, and God is angry with His “anointed.” He has ground the crown into the dust and turned the strongholds of David’s kingdom into ghost towns. The only manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth and the only people belonging to God have turned into an embarrassment to God and to the nations around them. God gave them over to be a punching bag for their enemies.

Is Ethan the psalmist accusing God of breaking the “everlasting covenant”? He comes close to saying this, but he stops short of it.

It seems that the man knows that one day God will salvage this covenant (verses 30–37), but he doesn’t know how it will happen. Still he asks God how long He will withhold His mercy from Israel. He wonders out loud how God can continue to accept the reproach cast upon His people by their enemies, who have taken advantage of their weakness. So he closes the psalm with a blessing, which we take to be a vindication, a certification that God is and always will be good and true to His Word.

How do we apply this psalm?

1. This passage may apply to Jew and Gentile alike. For almost 2,000 years the Jews have suffered a great deal for their rejection of the King, and such passages as this may apply to the post-A.D. 70 Jews. But the Gentiles also were grafted into the vine of the people of God (Rom. 11), and it is appropriate to draw incisive application to other periods in the history of the kingdom. Now, the entire Western world has turned on Christ and His rule. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) endorsed sexual abominations by ordaining homosexuals to the ministerial office for the first time in 2011. Former Christian territories like England and Turkey are now largely controlled by the Muslims. “Thou hast also turned the edge of his sword, and hast not made him to stand in the battle. Thou hast made his glory to cease, and cast his throne down to the ground.” The church is virtually powerless to change the culture in our time because it is synthesized with the culture. Therefore, the church is failing in Europe and large parts of America—wherever the Christian church was once highly influential. The divorce rates and fornication rates in the evangelical church and outside the evangelical church are shockingly similar to each other. We are experiencing the wrath of God on the Christian church in America right now. We receive the reproach of enemies that mock the fledgling, compromised Christian church in this country. Indeed, God has turned His face from us, and we ourselves should pray these prayers for God’s mercy, based upon His promise to David.

2. This promise to David has been fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 2:32–35 the Apostle Peter says that Christ must rule until He brings all of His enemies under His footstool. Taking in the worldwide view of the kingdom, we must acknowledge that God has been faithful to His promise to David. Jesus rules in the hearts and lives of millions around the world. For Ethan the Ezrahite, who saw the people of God in complete disarray but did not witness the coming of Christ and His subsequent reign, it took a great deal of faith for him to say “Blessed be Yahweh for evermore. Amen and Amen.” It should be far easier for us to see the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant and say these words with all of our hearts.

How does this psalm teach us to worship God? 

The covenants that God made with David and Abraham should come up in Christian worship on a regular basis because these are our covenants. We address God on the basis of the contract He made with our fathers in the faith. He promised that in Abraham’s Seed all of the nations of the earth would be blessed. He promised that the Son of David would reign forever on that throne. We pray that these nations would be blessed by His rule in our day! We pray that God would take His kingdom around the globe and that Christ would reign in our hearts and in every area of our lives. We pray all of this on the basis of the covenants that He made with our forefathers in the faith.

Questions:

1. What is the Hebrew word for “covenant”? What is the etymology of the word?

2. What was the Davidic covenant?

3. How did God fulfill this covenant?

4. What does it mean to exalt the horn of a person or a nation?

5. What did God say He would do if His people rebelled against Him?

6. What was the condition of God’s relationship with His people when this psalm was written?

7. Give several examples of Praise Psalms.

Family Discussion Questions:

1. How can you be sure that God will save His people from their sins? How can you be sure that Jesus Christ rules? How sure can you be that God is true to His Word?

2. Do we talk to God as one who is in a relationship with Him as the psalmist does here? Do we try to win God’s favor back as a son might who has offended his father? How do our prayers use relational tones and words